9 May 2013
[Note: The following is one of a series of articles regarding StogieGuys.com's recent visit to Nicaragua as part of Drew Estate's Cigar Safari. Read all our Cigar Safari articles here.]
Visiting Drew Estate last week, one year after my prior visit, it would have been hard miss the company’s growth. According to Drew Estate CEO Steve Saka, the company is now the third largest premium cigar company in the United States behind only General Cigar and Altadis (as determined by the Cigar Association of America).
One year ago while visiting, I was told they were planning a large new “pre-industry” facility for fermentation, aging, and sorting tobacco. Today, the frame of a massive $3.7 million airplane hangar-like structure is standing (pictured above and below from each end). The plan is for it to be operational by this September and, if current projections are correct, it will be at 100% capacity by 2015.
Liga Privada capacity is increasing too. I was told the company shipped twice as many Ligas in 2012 as it did in 2011, and the number will increase again this year. Given that it can take two years for the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper to be ready, that’s significant.
It’s a stark contrast from 2007 when Saka wrote the following about Liga Privada:
Everyone has been hassling us to release it for well over a year, but the problem is we are utilizing very specific tobaccos, certain prinmings [sic.] of certain seeds grown at certain farms…We have spent the last year trying to secure the leaf required to make a limited release, which I anticipate we will by this year’s RTDA.
I really don’t care if we sell any of it; given the units producible the sales will be tiny. For me the cigar serves as proof to anyone who doubts our ability to make a world class cigar…As I have said before, it is more important to me to have enough for my own consumption rather than worry about the commercial viability of these.
Today, Liga Privada is selling like hotcakes, but it’s hardly the only cigar in Drew Estate’s portfolio that’s growing. (And Saka seems to still have plenty of Liga Privada for his personal enjoyment with a few in his pocket at all times, even on the airplane ride back to Miami.) He tells me that every line Drew Estate makes increased sales last year, from Liga to infused cigars to the Blue Ribbon bundle.
In fact, the former location of their lunchroom is now an additional rolling room (pictured above) while a new lunch area (pictured below) has been built across the street.
Perhaps more exciting is what comes next for Drew Estate. If production capacity would allow, Saka feels he has a half dozen new cigars that are ready for release. Of course, they won’t all be seeing the light of day anytime soon given that Drew Estate can’t make enough cigars for its current lines.
Already announced is an addition to the My Uzi Weighs a Ton (MUWAT) line called Kentucky Fire Cured (unofficially dubbed “KFC”). It uses Kentucky-grown fire-cured tobacco, as opposed to the traditional air-cured tobacco. At least for the one sample I smoked, the result seems to be a smoky, savory flavor reminiscent of hickory barbeque.
Another innovative cigar is currently a prototype called “Nica Rustica” that utilizes a different strain of tobacco than is cultivated for traditional cigars and grows wild in Nicaragua. No release date has been set yet, but it’s another example of Drew Estate pushing the boundaries of cigar making. (I’ll share my thoughts on Nica Rustica in the coming weeks when I smoke the sample of Nica Rustica I received.)
Drew Estate has come a long way from when many, myself included, identified the brand solely with its flavored/infused lines. Today, they also make excellent traditional cigars with the same spirit of innovation that was started when Jonathan Drew went from a cigar kiosk in the World Trade Center to opening his own factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.
For that reason I eagerly await what Drew Estate comes up with next, which no matter what will almost surely be innovative.
photo credit: Stogie Guys